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Is a Woman's Life More Important Than Her Unborn Child's?

Sister Margaret McBride

The life of a woman is hanging in the balance.  She’s suffering from pulmonary hypertension, a condition that “limits the ability of the heart and lungs to function and is made worse, possibly even fatal, by pregnancy.”  The medical staff and ethics committee at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, AZ determine it’s best to terminate the pregnancy in order to save her life.  If the woman were to die, her unborn child would die with her, so that seems like a sound, albeit unfortunate, decision.  Not so, according to the Catholic Church, who’ve excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride for agreeing with the hospital ethics committee and allowing the abortion. That’s right: the Church believes a woman should die rather than terminate a pregnancy.

According to the Washington Post, “hospital officials defended McBride’s actions but confirmed that she has been reassigned from her job as vice president of mission integration at the hospital.”  Susan Pfister, vice president of St. Joseph’s, said the facility “adheres to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services but that the directives do not answer all questions.”

Bishop Thomas Olmstead of the Phoenix Archdiocese responded to the case by saying, “The Catholic Church will continue to defend life and proclaim the evil of abortion without compromise, and must act to correct even her own members if they fail in this duty.” 

Bioethicist Jacob M. Appel, in this piece on The Huffington Post, describes Olmstead as a “stone-hearted and intransigent figure,” who “gained notoriety for refusing communion to a ten-year-old autistic child who could not swallow and later spearheaded an effort to incorporate local church parishes individually in order to shield the Phoenix archdiocese from suits by sex-abuse victims.”  In his headline, Appel asks if women are still safe in Catholic hospitals, which he notes comprise one-third of all medical institutions in this country.  Would you trust your health to a tyrant like Olmstead?

In reaction to McBride’s excommunication, a priest identified only as Father Tim, wrote in his Irish Voice column:

Although I cannot disagree with the bishop’s theology and support the Church’s protection of the sacredness of all life, I suspect he needs “medical” treatment himself: a strong injection of reality.  If the mother of an 11-week-old fetus dies, the fetus will also die. It is too soon in life for the child to survive outside the womb no matter what the hospital might try. That means two deaths. Is there really a morally defensible reason for two innocents to die when one can live? It’s a hackneyed phrase, but what would Jesus have done?

No woman who wants a child would willingly abort her fetus.  But in a matter of life and death, the decision is fairly simple.  You save your life and try again to have a baby.  The Catholic Church is so archaic when it comes to sex and reproduction, I’m surprised they don’t blame women for having miscarriages.  I’m not suggesting the Catholic Church start advocating abortion – as I’ve said before, I understand their need to take a moral stance on social issues.  But I think that excommunicating a nun for saving a life is ridiculous.

Despite disagreeing with Olmstead, Father Tim goes on in his column to very eloquently praise the bishop for his support of immigrants in Arizona and he passionately defends McBride’s years of service.  Unfortunately, his pleas for her forgiveness are falling on deaf ears.  It seems like the Catholic Church would rather fade away into obscurity than adapt to the modern world, defending to the end its pedophilic priests, its hatred (self-loathing?) of homosexuals and its fear of women.  You’re on the outside now, Sister McBride.  Welcome to the real world.

Photo: Father Tim/Irish Central

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